On the Eighth Man Bound
I wrote this in the comments on Tardis Eruditorum. People seem to have liked it, so I’m reposting it here, with few modifications to tighten the wording and correct grammar errors
From “This Bank and Shoal of Time: A Brief Anti-History of the Time War” (partially excerpted from Doctor Who?: His Lives and Time) by Dr. Anastasia Calderón, originally published in volume 57 of the Transgalactic Journal of Anarchaeology:
There has always been a Time War. Or rather, there always would have been a Time War. Dealing with tenses can be a difficult task with regard to the Time Lords. But a catastrophic war which spans time and space and leads to the destruction of Gallifrey has always been part of its history from the very beginning. The Enemy was always changing—the Order of the Black Sun, the Daleks (at least twice), the Dire Wraiths, Varnax, the Divergents, the Hounds of Carcosa… But for every enemy the Time Lord managed to stop, or ensure never existed in the first place, a new one came into being, usually one created by the Time Lords themselves in the process of trying to stop the previous one. Because that’s how empires work. If you have a cause, you need to have an enemy to give it meaning. And the ‘Decline and Fall,’ as the Old Earth historian Gibbon put it, is part of the story of every empire since history was first written. The concept of empire contains its own undoing.
The Time Lords tried to get around this by constantly rewriting their history. They built their culture around the “Laws of Time,” but like all such sacred laws, quietly broke them when no one was looking. The so-called “Celestial Intervention Agency” began as a smokescreen for the Time Lords’ interference in their own past to avert its inevitable destruction… The “Moment” was not the first time Gallifrey was destroyed, nor, most likely, the first it was destroyed by the Doctor.
And the Doctor himself must have been, on some level, aware of this. He is said to have participated in a ritual known as “Eighth Man Bound,” in which he foresaw his future incarnations up until the eighth. This means that he must have known that his own people were, in some sense, destined to die, and by his own hand. This was in all likelihood not the beginning of the Doctor’s radicalism or alienation from his people; according to the Matrix shards we have currently recovered, the astronomical conjunction necessary for performing the ritual would have to have come after the time of the Otherstide student riots (though it is not clear that the shards all come from the same version of history). The concept of destiny, of course, is highly problematic with regard to a race that can and did rewrite time, and a member of that race who made a point of disrupting patterns of history. And this was not the Doctor’s only possible end; one account tells of his encounter with the corpse of his future self, who died during the great war to come. But all the possible patterns of history in which some good could remain in the universe converged upon one point: the Doctor’s destruction of Gallifrey.
The Doctor does not seem to have been consistently aware of this fact throughout his life. Through most of it, after he left Gallifrey, it seems to have retreated into his subconscious, sleeping in his mind. He may have regained an awareness of his “fate” in his seventh life, which motivated him to take on the role of “Time’s Champion.” He systematically destroyed or neutralized several threats that could potentially become the Enemy, including the Daleks themselves, and did his utmost to bring about reform in Gallifrey. (In one version of history, he guided Ace to become a Time Lord, in another, he masterminded Romana’s ascension to the presidency.) He moved heaven and earth to change the patterns of history, nearly losing his soul in the process.
And he failed. That failure must have haunted him greatly toward the end of his life. Perhaps this was the reason why he reconfigured the TARDIS as a Gothic ruin full of ticking clocks—counting down to the inevitable end—and spent the last moments of his life reading The Time Machine, a book about a man confronting the decay and death of his species, as the once-great chessmaster prepared for a pointless death at the hands of a gang of thugs.
And yet, at the same time, that failure seems to have given him a sense of freedom. At some point the Doctor realized his attempts to repair the engines of history, if carried too far, would ultimately damage both him and them. And so he chose instead to live life on the human level, embracing the moment and seeing people as people rather than as pawns, freeing him from the chains of godhood.
The Doctor’s eighth incarnation was a paradoxical and confusing one, about which it is difficult to determine anything definite. (Thiis life seems to echo the ancient Gallifreyan nursery rhyme: “Eighth Man Bound, make no sound/The shroud covers all.”) But we can see that this double-edged hope and despair was what shaped the Doctor’s eighth life. It is shown in his persona, inspired by the popular image of the Romantic poet. This persona reflected his sponteneity and passion, but also the Promethean revolutionary fire that burned in his heart. What’s more, the Victorian clothes he wore suggested an age of imperial idealism whose hopes would be dashed by a devastating war, and indeed, some accounts suggest he wore clothing taken from World War I in the latter part of his life.
This, then, was the Eighth Doctor, a man defined throughout his life (or lives) by paradox. A good and kind man who would be responsible for unspeakable crimes. A man who letting himself be bound by the chains of fate, freed the universe. The Champion of Life and the Bringer of Death. The victim and murderer of history. The Eighth Man Bound.
This is really awesome, yo.